Working at Kakao: Interview with Yaewon Hyun, DC major

If you are living in Korea or being passionate about Korea, it is almost impossible to not know about Kakao company. Kakao provides a variety of everyday life services that we are familiar with, such as KakaoTalk, KakaoPay, Kakao Map, Melon, and a lot more.

Yaewon Hyun, our friend from DC major at Ewha GSIS, has gotten that opportunity to join the policy team at Kakao as a research assistant. In this interview, Yaewon generously shares her experience preparing herself for her career path through internships and Ewha GSIS courses, how she pursued the position at Kakao, what the working environment is like, and other essential tips!

Could you please introduce yourself?

I am in my third semester at Ewha GSIS. I studied international studies and Development Cooperation for my bachelor’s and I am studying the same subject for my master’s.

What are your responsibilities at Kakao?

There are projects where we cooperate with international organizations. A private sector company like Kakao had never even been of interest. I had always limited myself to public institutions or international organizations. However, as a DC student, development cooperation is relevant in any sector for any company or organization.

That goes to say Kakao makes efforts to fulfill its corporate digital responsibility and thus this is the area I support as a research assistant. Although it’s a tech company, the type of work I do is technically not coding or developing a new algorithm. It’s more about using these algorithms and thinking about how these algorithms can be used for the betterment of society. So it’s definitely a research position.

Photo from https://www.kakaocorp.com/kakao/introduce/kakaoCulture
It’s quite unusual for me to think that a company wants to make a better society, rather than just making profits. How does Kakao do it? Is that a CSR project?

For example, recently Kakao launched the COVID-19 report. And so it’s all over the Kakao, which was really interesting and I am quite proud of it. If you look at the hashtag section of Kakao. Sometimes they have all of these reports here. The Kakao COVID-19 report is a report that analyses Kakao service data from multiple Kakao community and lifestyle services including Kakao talk, news, search, media content mobility, e-commerce and fintech, artificial intelligence social impact, and more. 

For example, you can observe the rise in the use of Kakao PC with the rise of remote work and increased digital communication. Kakao intended for the results of the Kakao COVID-19 report to serve as a resource in understanding today’s crisis and how we are integrating digital elements to maintain our social wellbeing. 

This is basically what the policy team has recently published as part of its work. They use the Kakao service data to analyze how our society has been reacting to COVID-19. So that’s technically not a direct CSR team. It’s more indirectly trying to achieve a sort of a positive influence on society. 

How is the working experience/environment at Kakao? 

One of the really positive things is that the opinions of the workers are reflected in Kakao’s operations. Not just internal operations, such as HR or the internal cafe, but overall. In Kakao, we have a corporate culture called 카카오스러움 and that means people would ask themselves, “Is this Kakao style” I think it’s a very startup culture.

What is the “internal cafe” you have just mentioned?

We have a cafe on the eighth floor, where employees would gather around and they might say, “Oh, instead of this kind of coffee, we want this kind of coffee.” Then, obviously, that’s reflected. They would serve another type of coffee. I think the opinions of the employees really matter. On the eighth floor, we also have a huge whiteboard where people would just go on and draw or write their opinions.

Can you tell us about your journey to Kakao? How did you hear the position and how did you prepare for yourself?

Last semester, I wrote a paper about AI assistant in Korea. And this was when I realized that Kakao was the only corporation in Korea having an AI assistant that talked about AI principles. And I really paid attention to AI ethics. So I just looked at the Kakao website. They have a separate employment website that I constantly monitored and I just applied for the position. 

The policy team has a separate blog on Kakao’s Brunch platform. So Kakao policy team presents all of its work and its publications on the Kakao Brunch. When I prepared for it, I literally read and memorized every single project that the policy team presents.

When I had my interview, not only were my interests exactly aligned with the terms of reference for the job, I knew about almost every single public information announced by the policy team. It’s really important to care and be passionate and especially knowledgeable about what you’re doing. 

Do you have any internship experience before this job? if yes, could you tell us a little bit about how did you get the internship opportunity, and what was your role?

I had an internship at UNESCO in Paris for three months. I worked in the communication and information sector, in particular, to support a program called IFAP information, which is basically UNESCO’s gathering countries together to speak about how we can use ICT for development. I feel like this is one of the critical moments for me that shaped my future goals and career/education aspirations. 

I learned about using ICTs for development and the ethical aspects of digital technologies and how the international community plays a role. This is when I realized that I wanted to pursue digital development more professionally. Of course, I must absolutely give thanks to the GSIS office and professor Jinhwan Oh for this opportunity. 

I had another brief internship at Konyang Cyber University for two months. Where I worked as a project coordinator and assistant to these two projects. They were related to my interests in using ICTs for development and digital development so I gave it a go.

How studying in your major at Ewha GSIS helped support your job/position?

The greatest lesson that I learned from school was how to do research. There’s a ton of research that needs to be done at a very fast pace. Being at school, always having so many deadlines, I’m always speaking to professors, always having to come up with new ideas, new theories, and hypotheses. That’s really helped the work that I do right now. 

And of course, I’ve always maintained pretty good communication with my professors. I think it’s really helped me figure out what I want to do, and what direction I need to take.

A huge breakthrough was when I took a class by Professor Byung-Il Choi on International Economy and conducted mini personal research on the gendering of Korean AI assistants. So I looked into why Korean AI assistants had a female voice by default, why they provided such evasive responses to potentially sexually abusive comments, and more. This was important because this is what really landed me my job at Kakao. I was so passionate and pretty knowledgeable about the subject matter. And this is what I think really made my application stand out. 

So the lesson from this was to actually care so about what you are working on and for. I had never been really interested in a particular field of development cooperation and this was the first time I was so excited about doing research.

Rickinasia, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Do you have any suggestions for the Ewha GSIS students both Koreans and foreigners, who are looking for internships and jobs in Korea? (ex. Any tips regarding resume/cv and interview?)

I want to say, always communicate with professors and just make sure to read every single notice that is posted on the Ewha GSIS website.

I’m pretty close to the GSIS office because I’m always asking them questions about internship opportunities or credits or school. So, I feel like the GSIS office really offers me a lot of information as well. All of the previous internships that I’ve had were through the GSIS office.

Also, to my non-Korean friends, if you are fluent in Korean, I would say don’t be afraid to apply to Kakao. There have been other employees who have not been Korean and there are particular jobs that require multilingual individuals.  

Any tips for self-development?

The most important thing is to exercise regularly. If you’re in harmony with your body, then it motivates you to really go out there and actually do something. I’m a passionate person. Sometimes that passion can be directed in a pretty negative direction. I feel like exercising regularly gives me a sort of discipline. It centers your focus back on your main goal. It might be a pretty cliche answer but recently I’ve been running and running really helped me find mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

Another thing that I do recommend is just applying for anything and doing everything. I do have a tendency to pile on a lot of responsibility and work on myself. This is what really motivates me, especially during COVID-19. So I just want to recommend to you all to just go out there. Do anything. Doing anything is always better than doing nothing at all. These opportunities really helped me to meet new people, to see what other worlds are out there, to see what other people are doing, and, you know, to fail. It’s not your main job, so it’s okay to fail. And it allows a lot of flexibility. If you are going to school full time and can’t work, it would be nice to do these extra-curricular activities. There are so many different ones aside from these.

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Published by Khing Amatyakul

Thai, Working at SuperPlanet, IR grad from Ewha GSIS | @khingamat

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